Can the nation heel?

Selling Big Macs, in English

Starbucks seemed the same this morning: no rush on the morning papers, although for local Democrats they report the spare good news from Take Back Texas that 10 of their 13 House candidates were successful. Most importantly this means that Democrats have gained seats in the Texas House for the first time in more than three decades. Perhaps even more critical is Hubert Vo's apparent success in Houston, eking out a win over Talmadge Heflin, the powerful, longtime House Republican who was named appropriations chairman last session.

My barista friend was not encouraged, however, since she's one of the millions of dues-paying Americans at whom Defense of Marriage acts (successful on 11 out of 11 state ballots) are aimed. She's a political scientist by education and said she had to admire the strategy of putting a Republican bread-and-butter issue like that on the ballots in key states to get the party faithful to the polls.

At a private house party last night, filled with hardworking waiters and waitresses who are putting themselves through school one tip at a time, a Cat-in-the-Hat piñata with Bush's face pasted on it leered in the corner while the TV was switched back and forth between Jon Stewart's Daily Show and CNN. Despite a brilliant Show that spoofed exit polling, pundits, and the Vote or Die campaign and featured a hilarious exchange between Al Sharpton and the outgunned William Weld of Massachusetts (If Bush wins, said the Reverend, it will be the first time he was actually elected president), the room's mood deflated slowly along with Stewart, who was nearly morose as Bush's electoral votes tallied near 250. Stewart's parting comment, that liberals would spend the next four years huddled in the small cluster of blue states in the Northeast and West (a bit of an exaggeration; there's a patch of blue in the Midwest, too) felt too true to be funny. At 1 a.m. my phone rang; it was my brother, reporting that they beat the piñata and burned it in effigy. "It was the most therapeutic thing I've done in a long time!" he said.

Larry King acted the part of a dully colored parrot, asking everyone who popped up on CNN's big screen, "Can the nation heal?" Now that Bush is reelected, given his and Cheney's track record at polarization, I realize he may have meant, can the nation heel?

An e-mail that arrived yesterday evening reflects an argument that Nicholas Kristof made in the morning-after The New York Times online ("Living Poor, Voting Rich"): that Democrats are just out of touch with middle America's values. That's a sweeping argument to make considering that Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Illinois are as "middle" as it gets and they went for Kerry, but it's nonetheless disturbing to contemplate that low-income Americans care more about preventing gay marriage than they do about the quality of their public schools.

But back to the e-mail. Titled "I Am a Bad American," it's from George Carlin and spouts such reactionary, middlebrow rhetoric as "I believe the money I make belongs to me and my family, not some mid-level governmental functionary, be it Democratic or Republican! I think being a minority does not make you noble or victimized, and does not entitle you to anything. I believe that if you are selling me a Big Mac, try to do it in English." Thanks for the keen analysis of complex issues, George!

The election evening had begun in high spirits at the home of a friend with a long history of peripheral involvement in politics. It was mostly a progressive Latino and Jewish crowd, fingers crossed for Kerry, worrying over Democratic San Antonio House contender David Leibowitz - another successful Take Back Texas candidate. As our host mixed margaritas in the extra-bath-turned bar he shook his head and said based on Bush's latest poll numbers, "He's not gonna get reelected." A prediction that turned out, like the polling in Ohio and other key states, to be inaccurate. The day before, though, he had e-mailed his invitees and said, "My head says Bush, but my heart says Kerry." Many hearts are still saying Kerry, too, although he arguably let down his supporters by conceding too early. Another lesson learned: Next time, nominate the trial lawyer. They know when to fight.

By Elaine Wolff

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